10 Tips to Make Your Boat Shine

These wash-down tips will keep your boat looking bright and better than new.
Lenny Rudow

You want your boat to shine bright, gleam in the sunshine, and look like the queen of the fleet.

We take pride in our boats, and we want them to look as good out on the water as they first did on the showroom floor. This is a lot easier to accomplish if you treat her right from the very start so we'd like to recommend these 10 tips that you should begin the moment after you sign on the dotted line.

1. Wash from stem to stern with soapy water and then give it a rinse. She'll get a little gritty and grimy even going from the dealership to your house or slip, and before you can begin a full beauty treatment you need a perfectly clean base to start with.
2. Establish a coat of paste wax. It's important to use paste, not a liquid wax, for this initial layer of protection because paste wax lasts a lot longer. Lay it on thick, and lay it on every square inch of gel-coated fiberglass except the non-skid. In the cockpit, be sure to extend the wax up the inside walls around the cockpit up under the gunwales and in other hard-to-reach areas, because one day soon fish blood will get splattered up there (at least, we hope it will) and the wax will make it much easier to sluice away.
3. You've completed the base coat of wax? Good job, now do it again. Two coats are necessary to maximize protection and make sure each and every molecule of gel coat is protected.
4. Now use a liquid carnauba wax and a microfiber pad or cloth for a third coating. This will turn that waxy shine into a true gleam, but it will only last a few weeks in the sun and rain. So plan to re-apply this stuff at least once a month.
5. With the gel coat taken care of... wait just a sec, there's more you can do. For weekly shines hit the gel coat with a spray-on polish. It'll turn the true gleam into a mirror-like finish.
6. Time to move on to the boat's metals. Chromed and stainless-steel fittings are best shined with a regular metal polish, and those that aren't imperative hand-holds (read: it doesn't matter if they're a bit slick) can now be waxed with paste or liquid wax.
7. Next, turn your attention to the boat's non-skid deck surfaces. This is one place you won't want to use wax, because it would turn that deck into a skating rink. The solution? Hit it with a dedicated non-skid deck protectant. These are often labeled "Non-Skid Deck Wax" but don't be fooled by the marketing terms, there isn't any regular wax in them. Rather, these have polymers that protect the non-skid from UV rays and the environment without making them slippery.
8. Now let's take care of supple vinyl and canvass. Obviously any vinyl will benefit from a vinyl protectant but make sure you use a protectant, not a cleaner. Your marine vinyl came from the factory treated with anti-microbials that will hold off mold and mildew growth, and cleaners can rub these away (even many of those intended specifically for use on vinyl). The most important thing you can do from here on out is making sure to thoroughly wash down the vinyl cushions with gentle soap and water after each and every time you use the boat. As dirt and contaminants adhere to the vinyl they give mold and mildew a foothold to grow in, so getting rid of foreign matter immediately is the best way to keep your vinyl looking like new. Delay using cleaners until it's absolutely necessary to use them to remove stains and ground-in grime. The exact same thing holds true for any canvass that may be on your boat. Start with protectants not cleaners, wash away dirt and grime and use dedicated cleaners only as it becomes necessary.
9. Don't those new outboard cowls look gorgeous? Absolutely - so let's make sure they look that way for years to come. The finish on those cowls is very similar to automotive finishes, it will benefit from two coats of high-quality automotive paste wax, followed by a dose of liquid wax, and then polish for a final shine. Be sure to wash them down with a boat soap containing liquid wax after every voyage, and once a month give them a touch-up wax job with more liquid carnauba wax.
10. Plastics, acrylics, and clear canvass is found on virtually every modern boat, and these need some special attention, too. In each of these cases there are four keys to lovely looking longevity. First, always use cleaners and polishes designed specifically for them. Second, always give them a rinse prior to cleaning because tiny grit and particulates on their surfaces can act as an abrasive and create tiny microscopic scratches that create a foggy look over time. Third, always use clean, non-abrasive microfiber cloths when cleaning and polishing. And fourth, always dry them with a chamois cloth or squeegee immediately after washing them down to prevent the formation of mineral water spots (which not only diminish the shine but also leave behind micro-abrasives that can cause damage).

It seems like a no-brainer but every boat needs to be completely washed from stem to stern with soapy water, rinsed and dried. Even brand-new boats must be washed. After washing the boat you can move on to wax. A paste wax will last much longer than a spray-on wax.
When you take care of your boat from day one, it will retain that brand-new look for its entire life. Polish all metal and brightwork, wax the outboard engine covers, properly clean vinyl and use the right products for your non-skid.
Clear plastic of all kinds needs special attention of its own to remain gleaming and avoid taking on a foggy look. Always use clean, non-abrasive microfiber cloths when cleaning and polishing. As for the vinyl, wash regularly with soap and water and delay using vinyl cleaners until it's absolutely necessary to remove stains and ground-in grime.
Chromed and stainless-steel fittings are best shined with a regular metal polish, and those that aren't imperative hand-holds (read: it doesn't matter if they're a bit slick) can now be waxed with paste or liquid wax.

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